Wouldn't it be cool if every NBA team had its own slogan for the stretch run of the 2015-16 regular season?
Yes. Yes, it would.
And that's why NBA #MemeMania is back: to hand out those end-of-year rallying cries.
These mottos can be anything. They can allude to a goal, aim to make a statement, focus on a developing storyline or, in some cases, just look to celebrate the absurd.
After electing to not blow it up at the trade deadline, the Atlanta Hawks need to recapture some of their 2014-15 magic.
Though they remain in play for a top-four postseason spot, they've lost their offensive mojo. They rank in the bottom half of points scored per 100 possessions, aren't getting consistent performances from Jeff Teague and are suffering from a severe case of "Kyle Korver is getting old."
Upset that the Boston Celtics didn't land a superstar at the trade deadline? Jae Crowder has some thoughtz and feelz on that matter, per ESPN.com's Chris Forsberg:
We just had an All-Star. So I don't know what other superstar you want. But there's a lot of talk about we need a superstar and stuff like that. But all five guys on the court are so locked in and so engaged that we're one superstar. We all play together. It's a scary thing when a team don't know who to match up to, whose night it's going to be on the offensive end. And, defensively, we all fight together and play together. It's a scary approach.
Boston is contending for a top-three slot in the Eastern Conference and is the only other team aside from the Golden State Warriors to rank in the top 10 of offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and pace. So Crowder has a point.
New Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks, the former assistant GM for the San Antonio Spurs, has his work cut out for him. The Nets are miles outside the East's playoff picture, and they don't control their own first-rounder until 2019.
Here's hoping some of Brooklyn's assets give Marks enough ammo to restock the prospect pool.
Combo bigs who can stroke threes and protect the rim are all the rage, which means that Marvin Williams is in vogue.
Opponents are shooting under 45 percent at the iron when challenged by Williams, and he's putting down 38.4 percent of his long balls. You could make the case he's been the Charlotte Hornets' most valuable player, be mostly serious about it and walk away from the discussion unscathed.
As Jimmy Butler tends to a left knee injury, the Chicago Bulls have slipped to eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Nikola Mirotic is still recovering from an appendectomy, Joakim Noah is done for the season, and the team's offense continues to hover around the bottom seven of efficiency.
Contending for the East's throne is officially out of the question. The Bulls are not the team they were supposed to be. But if they hope to make the playoffs, let alone get out of the second round, they need to keep their heads above water until Butler's return.
Random letdowns against inferior opponents haven't left the Cleveland Cavaliers in danger of relinquishing their hold on the East.
Inexplicable chemistry implosions and injuries are the only potential hitches in their path back to the NBA Finals.
Well, that and bed bugs, per ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin:
Dave McMenamin @mcten
Kyrie says his flu-like symptoms in OKC were caused by bed bugs at the hotel giving him a poor night's sleep. Showed bite on his face2/23/2016, 2:59:41 AM
Three games separate the sixth-place Dallas Mavericks from the fifth-place Memphis Grizzlies, a gap the former must erase if it has any chance of advancing past the first round.
Snagging one of the West's final three postseason spots sets up a dance against one of the Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. If the Mavericks can't sneak into fifth, where they would presumably face the Los Angeles Clippers, they might as well not make the playoffs at all.
It can be difficult for Denver Nuggets fans to watch rookie Emmanuel Mudiay make mistake after mistake. His jump shot is broken, his turnover rate unsightly.
But there is a promising foundation in Denver, and Mudiay is a part of it. So, too, is Nikola Jokic, a dark-horse Rookie of the Year candidate who is shining a blindingly bright light on the Nuggets' future.
To wit: Jokic is just the second qualified newbie to average at least 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per 36 minutes while shooting 36 percent or better from deep. The other? Larry Bird.
Is Tobias Harris the piece that will catapult the Detroit Pistons to their first postseason appearance since 2009?
We're about to find out.
Golden State Warriors
During a recent appearance on Fox Sports Radio, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski called the Warriors a "worrisome" threat in this coming summer's Kevin Durant sweepstakes, citing the 2013-14 MVP's desire to win a title now.
Golden State, meanwhile, is primed to repeat as NBA champions and break the 1995-96 Bulls' record of 72 regular-season wins.
Need I say more?
The Houston Rockets tried dealing Dwight Howard ahead of the trade deadline to no avail. Same goes for Ty Lawson. They actually did trade Donatas Motiejunas—or so they thought, per Shams Charania of The Vertical:
Shams Charania @ShamsCharania
Houston's 3-team trade of Donatas Motiejunas is in process of being voided by Detroit in accordance with the NBA, sources tell The Vertical.2/22/2016, 7:11:15 PM
Talk about poor timing. The Rockets are clinging to the West's eighth and final playoff seed, and the last thing they need is for failed deadline-day ventures to rattle their flimsy dynamic even further.
For their sake, they better hope awkwardness somehow portends success.
Paul George and rookie Myles Turner are going to make for a lethal one-two floor-spacing combination one day. And when that day comes, the Indiana Pacers, who are already championing a faster, more modern play style, are going to be dangerous.
That day just isn't today.
Indiana has spent a bulk of its season vacillating in and out of the East's top four, and that's not going to change anytime soon. The Pacers are, at best, a second-round postseason squad that's on the cusp of something much more.
Los Angeles Clippers
There are only a handful of teams that should reasonably gun for a title while the Spurs and Warriors are doing their respective things, and the Clippers are one of them.
Still, flipping a lottery-protected first-round pick for Jeff Green has "I heart second-round playoff exits" written all over it.
Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant has fewer than 25 games before his NBA career is over. The rest of the Los Angeles Lakers' season is all about giving him a proper sendoff—or rather, mostly about bidding him an appropriate farewell.
Per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, the team is also expected to use the remainder of its games to determine the fate of head coach Byron Scott.
Marc Gasol is likely done for the season with a broken right foot. The Memphis Grizzlies don't rank in the top half of either offensive or defensive efficiency. They have the net rating of a sub-.500 team.
Many in their position would have taken all this as a sign that it's time for surrender. But not these Grizzlies. They didn't stage a teardown at the trade deadline. They acquired depth in Chris Anderson, P.J. Hairston and Lance Stephenson. They are, with all their might, charging toward that low-end playoff berth.
Long live Memphis' propensity for grinding, even when it, ostensibly, doesn't make sense.
Thanks to a post-All-Star break winning streak, the Miami Heat are now, for the moment, the East's third-best team.
Chris Bosh's status is still uncertain going forward as he deals with another blood clot issue, per the Miami Herald's Ethan J. Skolnick, but the Heat once again look like a team the rest of the conference must take seriously—even the Cavaliers.
These Milwaukee Bucks are doing their darnedest to prove last season's unit wasn't an anomaly—lightning in a bottle that cannot be replicated but duped the team into doubling down on its success.
Sneaking into the playoffs is beyond unlikely at this point. The Bucks trail the No. 8 seed by six games. But they are 4-1 over their last five games, during which time they've fielded the Association's second-stingiest defense and moved Greg Monroe to the bench.
Building upon this stretch is paramount if Milwaukee wishes to avoid a lot of tough, Phoenix Suns-y questions over the summer.
Don't be turned off by the Minnesota Timberwolves' bottom-five record. That only means they're in play to add Ben Simmons to a core that already consists of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
And that's pleasantly terrifying.
New Orleans Pelicans
There is no bright side to the New Orleans Pelicans' season. They aren't good enough to make the playoffs but aren't crappy enough to truly enter the Simmons sweepstakes.
Oh, well. They'll always have Anthony Davis' 59-point, 20-rebound outburst against the Pistons on Feb. 21.
And in case you're wondering: Yes, that's a pretty significant explosion. Per B/R Insights:
B/R Insights @BR_Insights
Anthony Davis (59 pts, 20 rebs) joins Shaq & Chris Webber as only players since 1983-84 to have 50+pts and 20+rebs in single game. #Pelicans2/21/2016, 11:19:44 PM
New York Knicks
Here's the state of the New York Knicks in a nutshell: Interim head coach Kurt Rambis believes the Knicks need to make the playoffs, but he doesn't, per Newsday's Al Iannazzone, use his team's record to evaluate his own performance.
The Knicks, to be sure, aren't making the playoffs. They're a slow-paced unit that can't defend, which is a horrible combination. More than six games stand between them and the East's eighth seed, and Rambis is playing Carmelo Anthony 35-plus minutes in blowout losses.
Rookie Kristaps Porzingis' bright future is all the Knicks have going for them as they get ready to close out 2015-16.
Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Cavaliers, Spurs and Warriors didn't exist, the Thunder would totally be title favorites.
Hooray for silver linings(?).
Aaron Gordon is more than just a viral Vine waiting to happen.
He is just the fourth player since 2010-11 to average 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one block per 36 minutes before his 21st birthday and continues to work three-pointers into his offensive repertoire with increasing volume.
He's also a viral Vine waiting to happen.
There is no clear rhyme or reason to the Philadelphia 76ers' process anymore. We'll know more about their direction over the summer, when they have the opportunity to thoroughly reconfigure the roster.
Until then, the team is left to sell fans on their league-worst record being part of a bigger, more promising picture.
In less than one year, the Suns have parted ways with Goran Dragic, Jeff Hornacek, Marcus and Markieff Morris and Isaiah Thomas. And now, instead of contending for a postseason berth, they're thinking about what Ben Simmons would look like in purple.
That's one hell of an accidental about-face.
Portland Trail Blazers
Raise your hand if you thought the Portland Trail Blazers would flirt with a playoff appearance after cutting ties with LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews.
Those of you with your hands up, please feel free to add "serial liar" to your resume.
No rational person expected Portland to be above .500 this late into the season. The Blazers are playing with house money at this stage. Anything they accomplish from here, playoffs or not, is just gravy.
After burning through assets and cap space over the offseason to position themselves for a playoff berth, the Sacramento Kings are, most likely, going to miss the playoffs. Again.
But don't worry. Everything's fine. Pay no attention to head coach George Karl's lack of job security. Or the Kings' decision to fire one of his assistants. Or the team's record.
Everything is totally fine.
San Antonio Spurs
Did the Warriors trounce the Spurs by 30 points during their Jan. 25 matchup? Yes. Did Manu Ginobili suggest Golden State was unbeatable while speaking to an Argentine newspaper (h/t Jesus Gomez of Pounding The Rock)? Also yes.
But the Spurs are still the Spurs.
It's them, not the Warriors, who are on pace for the best point differential in NBA history. And it's imperative to remember that, while the Warriors are deserving championship favorites, the Spurs won't fret anything another team does against them during the regular season.
Masai Ujiri, general manager of the Toronto Raptors, had some NSFW choice words for the Nets in 2014 ahead of the playoffs. Brooklyn went on to dispatch Toronto in the first round anyway.
Fast-forward to this season, the Raptors are now working off consecutive opening-set exits and haven't sniffed the second round since 2001.
Rerouting those choice words in the direction of first-round departures just feels right.
If they end up missing the playoffs, as they are currently projected to do, look no further than their general inability to come through when it matters most.
So much for the Washington Wizards being front-runners for Durant.
Speaking with The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre (h/t Albert Lee of Bullets Forever), Wojnarowski indicated that Washington, which remains on the outskirts of the East's playoff bracket, isn't being pegged as one of Durant's preferred destinations outside of Oklahoma City.
Considering how obviously the Wizards have planned their roster flexibility around his free agency, it's imperative they close the season strong so that they can regain entry into the discussion they've strived to dominate.
Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.
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